Workout Tips

8 Stubborn Muscle Groups (and How to Grow Them Again)

Give these techniques a try to put an end to your size stagnation.

Light Dumbbell Curls

Once or twice a year, I’ll go back home to my small hometown in Germany and get in a few workouts at the gym where I started out. And every time, I feel like I am in a time capsule - the same people doing the same workouts, looking the same. How come most trainees do not make an ounce of progress on a year to year basis?

There are obviously too many variables at play to give a short answer but one common denominator would be that most people move weights instead of training their muscles. Yes, they do the exercises, often with a good amount of weight on the bar, but the actual work is done by joints, ligaments, inertia - in short everything but the target muscle. As an extreme example you can look at the guy who seems to be entering the "how low can I go contest" when curling a barbell. He might be curling 60 lbs, but his biceps only move around 30 lbs whereas his elbows get hit with 100+lbs. Result: blown out elbow and no growth.

It's fact: when it comes to sculpting a chiseled physique, muscle activation matters most.

Most people treat their training like homework, checking off a box 3x10, very neat and tidy. Here is the issue: your muscles do not have eyes, they have no concept as to how many sets you did or what day of the week it is. They only register one thing: how many fibers have been activated and for how long. The amount of fibers that have been properly activated per set is the single biggest factor toward your success in building a better physique. It will absolutely make or break your progress.

Overhead Press

You know what the difference between a pro athlete/bodybuilder and you is? It's the ability to activate more muscle fibers during each set of training than you could ever dream of. Pros use about 30% of their fibers during each set. Normal mortals are around 8-10%. That means that the pros’ workouts are 3 times as effective as ours. If you multiply that by hundreds of workouts over the course of years, it becomes evident why they look so big and ripped.

It all starts at the beginning of each rep. Whenever you are starting a movement to flex a muscle, the body registers your intent and nothing else. What does this mean? The body will always use whatever muscle you activate first in order to move the weight. The first motion will more or less dictate the quality of the ensuing set. Therefore, you must make certain that you are using the muscle you are trying to work, not just move the weight. This will also require you to leave your ego at the front door. You are a physique athlete not a weightlifter.

In order to make all this more practical, I listed some pointers for targeting each muscle that have worked well for me in the past.

Muscular Back

Back

When doing any type of pull, always pull from the elbows, not wrist. This will ensure you are using the lats first, biceps second. Try having a light grip; do not make the exercise into a heavy biceps curl.

Chest

Two things matter most when pressing: 1) you must have an inward intention, which means that you should not push the bar straight up. Try to bend it together. 2) Try to imagine that you are pushing yourself into the bench and the weight goes up as a result of it. Both of these pointers will help you avoid shoulder recruitment

Shoulders (front)

When doing overhead presses, always intend to bring the elbows together. When working on your medial or posterior delts, you should have the elbows lead the motion, not the hands. This will minimize trap involvement.

Biceps

When curling, keep your wrist neutral and wrap the thumb under the bar. Secondly, try to snap the bar in half when using a barbell.

Triceps

Put the elbow slightly behind the body in order to insure a maximum stretch.

Quads

When squatting/leg pressing, push from the heel, not the front of your foot. Also, imagine you are pushing the floor away when squatting or using the leg press.

Hamstrings

Push your hips downward when doing hamstring curls. If you are using the leg press for single leg press, have a downward intention as if trying to slide the heel off the machine to ensure maximum hamstring engagement.

Calves

Do not change the angle in your knees during calve raises, otherwise they become mini squats.

Give these pro tips a go and watch your "stubborn" parts grow!

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